Ranil Wickremesinghe has been leader of the UNP since 1994. After a strong showing in 2001, he led the party into a free-fall, losing many core members to the government side. In 2004 he lost a few but by 2007 it became a flood. By 2010 it has become a veritable tsunami, but Ranil still stands. The party, however, has gone deeply underwater.
Today, former UNPers like G.L. Peiris and Keheliya Rambukwella form the public face of the SLFP government and many others hold high ministerial posts. Others like Milinda Moragoda and Rohitha Bogollagama held high posts but lost their seats when they tried to run under the SLFP.
In many ways Ranil took a competitive party and slowly crippled it. The latest rebellion led by Dayasiri Jayasekera may see over 25 UNPers sit independently. Like Prabhakaran, however, Ranil may fight to the bitter end.
1994: Ranil took over the opposition and lost to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1994. Leadership was taken by Gamini Dissanayake until he was killed just before the Presidential vote. Leadership returned to Ranil, who hasn’t given it back since.
2001: Ranil led the party to victory in 2001, but could not secure the Presidency. When he ran in 2005 he was defeated by Mahinda Rajapaksa.
2004: After losing the Parliamentary election in 2004, Mahinda lost heavyweights who went on to hold Ministerial posts.
2007: In a large walkout which should have ended his career, 17 UNP MPs crossed to the government side in January 2007. Among them was the current Foreign Minister, G.L. Peiris. This was doubly embarassing for Ranil as he had signed a MOU with the President. At various points he tried to cohabit with the SLFP, weakening the UNP in the process.
2010: Ranil did not run in the Presidential election and lost the Parliamentary election. While trying to work out another MOU with Mahinda, he lost the support of the SLMC and a few Tamil MPs (UNF members). Then he lost six members during the vote on the 18th Amendment. Now Mahinda will likely run again. Since there are no term limits for Opposition Leader, it may be against Ranil.